Many years ago I met a Sufi master whose profound understanding of Islam truly impressed me.
But before I continue with this story, let me state that almost all the Muslims with whom I have had close friendships have either been Sufis - or were gravitating towards a mystical interpretation of Islam. The mystical approach is experiential and private; whereas ritualistic religion is regulated by public behavior and therefore tends to be tribalistic in nature.
I find it impossible to have an intelligent conversation with fundamentalists of any persuasion - whether Muslim, Christian or whatever. This is because fundamentalism is antagonistic to intelligence. Wherever violence erupts over religious differences, fundamentalism is invariably the root cause. Brawn and brute force override brain and heart when independent thinking is suppressed.
Looking up the word "fundamentalism" in my trusty digital dictionary, I found this concise summary:
"Islamic fundamentalism appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries as a reaction to the disintegration of Islamic political and economic power, asserting that Islam is central to both state and society and advocating strict adherence to the Koran (Qur'an) and to Islamic law (sharia), supported if need be by jihad or holy war."
There you have it. Fundamentalism is basically an outward manifestation of ego insecurity. An entire tribe or nation can suffer from ego insecurity and seek refuge in hardline dogmatism and fanaticism. You could say it's a pathological condition and, as such, can be quite easily cured - once the hidden hand behind the reactionary forces is revealed and surgically amputated.
In every case you will find that the chief puppetmaster isn't even a believer. He cynically exploits the gullibility of the mindless mob and manipulates its collective pain-body through control of the mass media and law enforcement.
Coming back to my Sufi friend who enlightened me about the essence of Islam. He pointed out the significance of a triconsonantal syllable in Arabic and Hebrew which expresses peace, harmony and wholeness: the Arabic SaLaM and Hebraic ShaLoM are the commonest embodiments of this key to being truly muSLiM.
Sin-Lam-Mim (Arabic: س ل م S-L-M; Hebrew: שלם Š-L-M) is the triconsonantal root of many Semitic words, and many of those words are used as names. The root itself translates as "whole, safe, intact."Note that this triconsonantal syllable forms the root of the words "Islam" and "Muslim." This places the frequency of peace, harmony and wholeness at the very core of Islam and any sentient being that consciously aspires towards attunement and harmonization with the Whole of Existence is intrinsically Muslim.
When one has embraced the essence of Islam, no other rules apply. All observances, injunctions and rituals (specific to a historical and sociocultural context) immediately become irrelevant and meaningless and fall away of their own accord. As such, Islam in its pure, essential form can be said to be the ultimate guide to attaining cosmic equilibrium and liberation from illusion. This is precisely the teaching of wu-wei found in the Tao Te Ching and it corresponds perfectly with the highest aspirations of Zen Buddhism. It also resonates effortlessly with the concept of yoga or sacred union with the Godhead or Source.
What about the name "Allah"? Does it have a special meaning? My learned friend explained that the word, written as Al-Lah means The Great Void - or The Nothingness from which Everything was born. In other words, Source.
Every Tibetan Buddhist aspires to return to and consciously merge with The Great Void. The Nothingness is a key element in Chaos Theory which postulates that Order (structured existence or an actualized state of being) emerges either randomly - or as a focused expression of desire and will from the Primordial Chaos (Infinite Potentiality). It all makes perfect sense to me.
The mystical understanding of Allah and Islam frees us from a narrow and limited distortion that can only lead to divisiveness and discord. Indeed, the way my Sufi friend explained Islam made me instantly receptive and I realized that this was truly a sophisticated philosophy with universal appeal and cosmic wisdom. No compulsion, no harsh and punitive rules, no exclusivity.
Alas, the crafty hoodlums who rule over unthinking mobs must of necessity opt for the most demented, inane and constricted interpretation of any belief system in order to have any control over the untutored passions of their flock. They will set up formal councils and academies to determine the parameters of belief and behavior and vigorously persecute (and even execute) anyone who preaches any form of "deviancy" from the orthodox doctrine.
We have seen what the Spanish Inquisition (which lasted from 1478 till 1834) was really about - the brutal and violent suppression of religious dissent and heresy for the benefit of a corrupt and greedy ruling elite. In this day and age we need a Malay Inquisition like we need a hole in the pocket.
Allahu Akbar! The Nothingness is All! So why so much ado about NOTHING?
[First published February 2010, reposted 5 August 2013]